Did Jesus prophesy that a time of great trouble would occur on the earth just before His return?
This passage contained in the Olivet Discourse seems to be one of the more controversial ones within the Church. While it doesn’t directly deal with our salvation or “who” Jesus is, it does nonetheless spark debate among Christians regarding the coming of Christ and the last days. From my research, it wasn’t really all that controversial prior to the 1800’s when John Nelson Darby introduced his concept of Dispensationalism along with its distinction between Israel and the Church, the Tribulation period and pre-trib rapture (topics I’ll cover elsewhere).
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. “When you see` the abomination that causes’ desolation` standing where it does not belong — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now — and never to be equaled again. – Mark 13:12-19
Futurists read this passage and place its events sometime in the future in the period they call the Tribulation. I don’t accept that interpretation but rather agree with the historicist perspective that these events were fulfilled with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.
In context, Jesus was answering the question “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7) What things? Jesus had just remarked, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6) Clearly, Jesus was talking about the temple and the disciples were asking about that. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would suddenly jump to some future prophecy of end times some thousands of years in the future. He warned “those who are in Judea to flee to the mountains” (which they did in AD70). Josephus, the Jewish historian who gives us the clearest first hand account of Jerusalem’s fall, reports that the Jewish Christians in Judea heeded Jesus’ warning. When the city and temple fell, more than one million Jews died. But Jewish Christians, by and large, were not among them, for they had already fled the city when they saw the Romans coming.
Jesus said the sign that these things were about to take place (Matthew 24:15) was the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Dan. 9:27).
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) – – Matthew 24:15
Luke also tells us in Luke 21:20 what the abomination that causes desolation is.
He doesn’t say it’s the Antichrist setting up his image in a re-built temple, as futurists would say, but it’s the armies surrounding Jerusalem laying siege to it. In AD 70, the Roman general Titus invaded Jerusalem to crush a Jewish revolt, entered the temple, had the building destroyed, and carried off the lampstand and other temple artifacts to Rome.
Internal evidence contained in Scriptures and external historical evidence points to this Olivet Discourse prophecy being fulfilled in the destruction of the temple in AD 70. There remains the debate among some whether this was a shadow/type prophecy with yet another fulfillment in the future.